What does success in Iraq mean this week?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 8 2007 6:06 AM

Goal-Line Stand

The Washington Post leads with the Bush administration's attempt to find alternative signs of progress in Iraq for its report to Congress, since it is unlikely the Iraqi government will have met any of the established administration benchmarks. The Los Angeles Times leads (and the WP off-leads) with a string of violent incidents in Iraq, including a bombing in the village of Amerli that killed between 105 and 150 people and wounded about 250, making it one of the deadliest attacks of the war. The New York Times leads with reports that the Pentagon called off a 2005 mission to capture top al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan, worrying it was too risky and might upset the Pakistani government.

While the situation in Iraq has seen some improvements, such as fewer sectarian killings and a rejection of Sunni extremist groups by tribal leaders, the goals set forth as part of the president's surge plan are still far out of reach. The surge was meant to make it possible for the Iraqi government to pass vital legislation and assume greater security responsibilities, but neither goal is likely to be met anytime soon. The WP anticipates that Congress will not be impressed by anything less than the completion of the original benchmarks.

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The attack in Amerli was especially deadly because the blast caused dozens of clay-walled homes and shops to collapse, crushing the occupants. The NYT reports that about two-thirds of the dead were immediately buried by family members due to fears of additional attacks at hospitals and morgues. That may explain why the death total is so imprecise, with the NYT saying at least 105, the WP saying between 115 and 155, and the LAT saying 150. Another attack in a nearby village killed about 20 people. U.S. troops have been focusing their attention on the most violent parts of Iraq, like Baghdad and the Anbar province, but the papers all say these attacks show insurgents are capable of hitting soft targets in parts of the country where the U.S. has a smaller presence. The victims of the Amerli attack were primarily Shiite Turkmen, and while no group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, the NYT notes the attack bears the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Mesopotamia or a similar group. The WP says that Amerli is part of a province that may become part of the autonomous Kurdistan region, prompting conflict between Arabs, Turkmen, and Kurds.

What began as a small-scale operation to abduct top al-Qaida members in tribal-controlled Pakistan turned into a several-hundred-person mission, as troops were added to lower the risk of casualties. The mission's size eventually led then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to call the whole thing off. The larger mission meant more risks, including a chance of upsetting the Pakistani government, with whom the U.S. has a fragile alliance. The NYT compares the aborted mission to Clinton administration plans to strike at Osama Bin Laden, which were called off for similar reasons. The paper points out that President Bush criticized the Clinton administration for not acting more decisively to catch Osama Bin Laden during the 1990s.

The NYT off-leads with another piece in its ongoing series on scams that target the elderly. This one deals with unqualified financial advisers working in tandem with insurance companies to push bad investment ideas on retirees. These diploma mill graduates are using impressive sounding titles and playing to seniors' fears of outliving their savings in order to market deferred annuities and other poor investment choices.

The NYT runs a story on Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the latest push to end the war in Iraq. The article is partly a defense of the Democrat-led Congress, which has failed to enact a withdrawal measure despite numerous attempts because of Republican opposition. It's also a preview of things to come, however, as Reid considers returning to Iraq legislation yet again, following a series of high-profile Republican defections.

The WP teases the first part of an ongoing series about Congress' debate over Iraq. The series will follow four members of Congress—a party loyalist and a conflicted moderate from each party—as they navigate the coming months of debate on the war.

The WP fronts a piece on the thorny issues surrounding uncontacted native tribes in Peru and Brazil. As many as 67 tribes live in Brazil without contact from the modern world. As the modern world draws closer to these tribal areas, however, the question of how to protect native rights without the natives' knowledge becomes ever trickier.

The NYT fronts a report on Russian President Vladimir Putin's  use of a government-sponsored youth group to win over the hearts and minds of young people. The group holds pro-Putin rallies, derides his opponents, and looks to raise Putin's esteem in the eyes of young Russians ahead of next year's presidential election. Critics say the group too closely resembles Soviet-era youth organizations and that its distrust of America and Western Europe could further alienate Russia from the West.

The NYT takes President Bush to task for commuting the sentence of former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby last week, saying the president's rationale for commuting Libby's jail time doesn't match up with the president's record as governor of Texas. Bush said at the time that his chief concerns when considering a request for clemency were whether the party's guilt had been established and whether he or she was given a fair hearing. Despite saying he respected the jury's verdict in the Libby case, Bush commuted Libby's jail time on grounds that it seemed excessive, a concern Bush had never mentioned in reviewing any other case. The paper makes much of the fact that Bush commuted just one death sentence as governor, even allowing death sentences involving juveniles and the mentally retarded to proceed.

The LAT fronts one man's attempt to redeem the Nixon Library by bringing a little historical veracity to bear on a shrine that's long been the outcast of presidential libraries.

The LAT goes under the fold with a look at the potential environmental costs of developing Canada's vast reserves of oil sands.

From the schadenfreude file: The NYT reports that residents of Southern Nantucket are attempting to get a permit to spend $25 million of their own money to beat back the beach erosion that threatens their $800,000-plus homes, a process that, even if its successful, would need to be repeated as often as every five years.

Inside, the LAT notes the announcement of the new "Seven Wonders of the World," as dictated via internet poll—more democratic (and less euro-centric) than the old list, for sure, but that doesn't really make the distinction any more meaningful.

The WP looks into the state of the alien-conspiracy-theory community on the 60th anniversary of the "event" in Roswell, N.M. Chances are, however, if you really care about the state of the alien-conspiracy-theory community, you're most likely a part of it.

Jesse Stanchak is a writer living in Washington, D.C.

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